ASHLEY, Pennsylvania -- The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill passed by Congress last month includes $11.3 billion for abandoned-mine reclamation and cleanup over the next 15 years.
For Pennsylvania's coal communities, the support is long overdue, and they are hopeful it will create jobs for the region.
Bobby Hughes, executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, said the funds could help redevelop the estimated 180,000 acres left abandoned in the wake of the 1977 Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Act.
Hughes pointed out that federal resources are a chance to invest in clean energy.
"We're 50 years out from that, and we're still looking for new economies," Hughes remarked. "This is a way for us to see a shot in the arm to have other industries start looking toward Pennsylvania to start coming up with some other types of solutions that are long-term commitments to the region."
Pennsylvania will receive roughly $253 million annually for abandoned-mine lands from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, more than any of the other 24 states and three tribes, according to the Appalachian Citizen's Law Center.
Abandoned mines can have far-reaching consequences on local communities, with toxic heavy metals having the potential to leak into groundwater, surface water and soil.
Dana Kuhnline, legislative coordinator for the group Appalachian Voices, said with a large influx of money, the goal is to address the environmental hazards.
"State agencies and local reclamation partners have all been pretty strapped," Kuhnline explained. "They've been doing a lot of what I've heard described as chasing landslides. So they're only able to address the most severe or dangerous incidences of abandoned mine lands that are in communities."
An analysis by the Ohio River Valley Institute found an estimated $20 billion are needed to clean up abandoned-mine lands in the U.S.
Source: Keystone State News Connection